Our work supporting black lives matter is more important than ever
Posted on 28 May 2021
A year ago today, many in the UK took to the streets in a mix of collective anger, despair, and hope. The tragic murder of George Floyd sparked a global movement. This week our thoughts have been with his family and loved ones, and all those who have experienced grief, violence, and abuse because of racism.
When protests began last summer, many organisations joined in with public displays of solidarity, including Liberty. But statements or expressions of solidarity are not enough. Meaningful change requires more than words – it demands committed action, both within our own institutions, and in the wider world.
At Liberty we believe that accountability is crucial to making good on a promise. And with that in mind, we outline here what we have been doing externally and internally over the past year, what our plans are for 2021 and to make public our ongoing commitment to change.
The Black Lives Matter protests of last year were above everything else effective. All those who took to the streets helped shed light on state-perpetuated racism. Protestors here also forced the UK Government to undertake a review into structural racism.
While the Sewell report turned out to be a study in disappointment in its flat-out denial of the existence of structural racism, it could do nothing to stop the fact that more and more people were talking about it. Just this week Baroness Warsi repeatedly accused the Conservative Party of being structurally racist in her reaction to the report into Islamophobia in the party.
And such a powerful legacy of last summer’s UK BLM movement is proof of the potency of protest – and explains why the Government is so keen to shut it down.
This year Liberty has been working with others to prevent the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill becoming legislation. This Bill is a naked attempt to outlaw protest while extending discriminatory powers.
If this becomes law it not only threatens protest, it would reinforce the very structural racism the Government denies. It would expand stop and search powers, introduce a ‘Prevent’ style duty to address serious violence – despite the many failings of Prevent – as well as powers that would specifically target Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
Liberty was ready for this legislation – defending our right to protest and all civil liberties, and standing in solidarity with marginalised people is what we were founded for. Back in 1934 Liberty was formed in reaction to the brutal policing of the Hunger March protests.
To join the fight to protect protest rights and stop the expansion of structural racism sign here.
We are also continuing to support protestors on the ground. When people began organising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, our Advice and Information team created a project with Black Lives Matter UK, Black Protest Legal Support, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, The Monitoring Group, Northern Police Monitoring Project, and StopWatch to help people know their rights when attending a demonstration during a pandemic. We are continuing this work and we stand ready to challenge the police and Government when they deploy unlawful tactics against protestors.
To learn more about your rights as a protestor see here.
While many commentators were quick to say the murder of George Floyd was a tragedy unique to the US, the UK is not innocent: in England and Wales alone, 183 people of colour have died at the hands of the police in the last 30 years.
We have been having many conversations with grassroots groups around the country who are on the frontline of pushing back against over-policing. We’re working out how we can support a change to the damaging default of police as panacea for all ‘community issues’. Just last week our members voted through a proposal to support that aim.
Watch this space for more work on this area.
We have also continued our work to dismantle the hostile environment, end immigration detention, stop discriminatory surveillance and fight racialised counter-terror measures.
The murder of George Floyd forced a reckoning and a reflection for those engaged in social justice to interrogate what we were currently doing to dismantle racism and what we should be doing. We, along with many others, made public our commitment to focus on anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice. Over the past year we have changed policies and ways of working at Liberty that affect both internal and external practice.
Some of what we have done includes:
Refining our political analysis and identity – while we are staunchly non-partisan, we have worked to ensure that our understanding of freedom and justice take account of the prevailing power dynamics in society. Updating our policy making to ensure we are seeking out experts with experience of the issue at hand and giving all staff in the organisation who would like to the opportunity to feed in.
We have hired a People and Culture Manager to drive forward our five-year anti-oppression plan and we have updated our job descriptions to include explicit responsibility and expectation of new starters to make Liberty an inclusive organisation. Liberty’s managers and others involved in recruitment have been trained on inclusive recruitment practices and we recently hosted a positive action internship.
This year we also hosted a range of training including an introduction on handling secondary trauma. All managers have had disability confidence training and staff, board and trustees attended trans inclusivity training. Every department and team have anti-racist objectives. All white staff at Liberty have anti-racist objectives and white SMT members have had race equity coaching.
We have also changed how we approach project planning to ensure our projects have inclusion and equity as part of the objectives. We have also hosted training on how to create indicators that meet this aim so we know we are actually doing that work, and to identify when it’s not working.
The next steps in our plan include hosting further department meetings to discuss our anti-oppression work to check against our objectives. We will also be sharing departmental objectives with the whole organisation for reflection and feedback.
We have further training planned, particularly on disability, and this is to be extended to all staff as well as Liberty’s board and trustees. We plan to book class awareness training and further race equity training, extending this to all staff, our board and trustees. We are currently working through a project on supporting collective staff voice.
When we complete this plan, we know we still have work to do. We also want to publicly acknowledge that anti-racism and anti-oppression is only possible due to the hard work, commitment, and courage of our staff, and we recognise that this work is not easy, especially for staff of colour and others who have experienced discrimination at Liberty.
This is not work that should ever be taken lightly and so today, as we reflect on the call from UK BLM protestors and the tragedy that brought them out on to the streets – many of our staff among them – we want to publicly promise our staff and our members that we will not stop the work of making sure we live our values.
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